"My job isn't merely to sit behind TweetDeck all day. I need to be an effective project manager, copywriter, copy editor, photographer, marketer, publicist, collaborator, and networker."
October 18th, 2012

Willa Koerner Social Media Manager

Willa Koerner is the Digital Engagement Associate for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). She keeps close tabs on all things social media, all things viral, and well, all things SFMOMA. It’s one of the newest (and coolest) jobs we’ve taken a look at here at YrDoingaGreatJob.com, and Willa couldn’t have been a better guide.

What exactly does a Digital Engagement Associate do?

I manage and create content for SFMOMA’s social media channels, which means that I manage everything that goes up on our Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest accounts, in addition to working with our Marketing & Communications Team on digital marketing campaigns. My position is pretty great in that I get to work with a lot of different people here at SFMOMA, including our curators, our conservations team, and the folks who produce our all-star interactive media, our blog, and our website. I tend to think of myself as SFMOMA’s internal reporter – I am looking for the story that goes untold here at the museum. We have the most talented, fascinating staff, and people here work really, really hard to produce world-class shows for the world to enjoy. It’s pretty exciting to be the one who gets to share all of the hard work with our nearly half a million social media followers!

What is an average day like?

It usually starts with me looking at my personal Twitter feed. I need to scope the scene and see what people are talking about, see what happened while I was sleeping, you know? A big part of my job is connecting SFMOMA’s exhibitions, programs, and collection to what’s happening in the “real world,” which (in my opinion) helps pull together the bigger picture of why art matters – and Twitter helps keep the “real world” top-of-mind. So, yes, my day starts with looking at Twitter on BART, and emailing myself potentially relevant content. Usually by the time I get to my desk in the morning, there are a million ideas in my mind, lots of emails to read, meetings to prepare for, and social media updates to post.

Given the relative newness of social media management on the official job market, how and when did you know that this is what you wanted, or could, do?

I majored in Studio Art at Vassar College, and then moved to San Francisco on a whim. Before working at SFMOMA, I must have had a million part-time jobs, internships, and freelance gigs. At one point I was working for an artist-run pseudo cult/alternative reality game, where part of my job was to polish a metal ring attached to the sidewalk in the San Francisco’s financial district. If you ever saw a blonde girl crouched down in the street drawing a weird chalk symbol on the sidewalk, that was me. I also worked at an Internet start-up, an art gallery, and for a while, a small company that paid me ten dollars an hour to Photoshop logos off of products. Then one day, I landed an internship at SFMOMA in their Interactive Educational Technologies Department, which was a big deal for me. That led to a job as an Education Assistant at SFMOMA, which helped me get another job here, until suddenly I had made a lot of connections, and I knew the museum well. Those connections, combined with all of my very bizarre experience, helped me land a job as SFMOMA’s first-ever full time social media person. I don’t think I ever really knew this was what I wanted to do, or have an epiphany – I still feel like I’m getting used to this job, and the work is constantly changing and evolving due to the nature of the media. But it’s amazingly refreshing to be paid to do something you’re interested in, after years of slogging through unpaid internships and underpaid creative work. I’m sure everyone with a fulltime job in the arts feels this way right now, and it’s important to me to work hard and never take the perks of this position ­– the art! – for granted.

Tell me how your age gives you a leg up in this industry.

Recently there was an article on NextGen Journal about “why all social media managers should be 25,” which caused a huge ruckus and a lot of angry comments. The article put a presumptuous spin on an obvious observation: that those of us who are currently 25 were the first college freshmen to have Facebook before leaving home for school, and we really did mature socially and intellectually in parallel with social media platforms. I wrote an official reaction to that article, but basically what I think is that yes, being young can be an advantage, but it’s in no way the deciding factor on whether or not you’ll make a good social media manager. Aside from my familiarity with social media, you must have a lot of other skills under your belt to be effective in managing social media for an institution or company ­– and many of those skills would most likely be more developed if I was older than 25. My job isn’t merely to sit behind TweetDeck all day. I need to be an effective project manager, copy writer, copy editor, photographer, marketer, publicist, collaborator, and networker. In some cases, my age is actually a handicap, as it’s easy to feel intimidated when working with colleagues who have been doing their job for what seems like an infinity of time to me. However, for the most part, being young has allowed me to have a unique perspective. I think I get invited to a lot of meetings simply because my coworkers think I have my finger on the pulse of the mysterious, magical beast of “what young people like,” where thoughts move a mile a minute and content must have a certain aura to be clicked on, shared, and talked about.

Do you think social media adapts to how people already communicate or that people adapt to how social media allows them to communicate?

People have adapted to the new forms of communication that various social media platforms can facilitate. Obviously communicating through Twitter looks and feels differently than communicating through Facebook or Instagram, and there’s no argument that people haven’t adapted their ways of “storytelling” to work within the constructs of each medium. There are gains and losses here – obviously Twitter has worked as an amazing communication tool in some cases, such as with the artist Ai Weiwei or the Arab Spring. On the other hand, social media can be said to have trivialized communication and maybe kids these days can only think and write in 140 characters. Like all things, it depends on how you look at it. But I’m optimistic.